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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1038. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, [started before and continued on] 18 February 1805 ⁠* 

Dear Danvers

Get for me the story of the Devil & that poor girl who died at the brothel by the Infirmary with as minutely as you can, [1] xxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxx xxx xxxxxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxxxxxx you will recollect what I mean. it happened while we were abroad & Biddulph [2]  was a good deal concerned in it.

This memorandum was made some days ago just as the recollection occurred. I have since been very unpleasantly interrupted – having found it right to go over to poor Wordsworth & his sister, who are almost heart-broken by the loss of their favourite brother in the Abergavenny. [3]  I came back on Friday & am going again on Wednesday. Meantime I have uneasiness enough of my own. some symptoms in little Edith have alarmed us. as you may suppose we are soon alarmed – & I hope in time. Our apothecary is a skilful one, & is doing precisely what I should have done upon my own knowledge – he has lanced the gums, blistered behind both ears, & given calomel. [4]  this was done yesterday, & to day there seems nothing to excite apprehension, except her usual unusual spirits when in health, a sort of premature intelligence & excitability which has always made me anxious. What terrified us was that she had for two or three days hung down her head when in the open air, – which to day has not been the case: but there has been no fever, & we can hardly say any costiveness, certainly nothing habitual. We mean to keep xxx xxx up a discharge at the ears, (which is also expedient because her eyes are subject to frequent weaknesses & inflammations of the upper lids) & to administer calomel every other day. if any fever appears to give digitalis, – & if any heaviness of the head manifest itself – to blister it, so that if the disease be preventable, no effort to prevent it will have been omitted. tell King this that we may have his opinion. She is just getting her two first upper teeth, which we believe are thro, about ten weeks after the two under ones. for her age she is a large child & unusually forward; standing great part of her time alone, & beginning to spe talk, tho not yet full ten months. There is no bad symptom in her eyes; & she has never seemed heavy within doors, only been very irritable instead of very good natured which is her disposition. she discovers no uneasiness at having her head washed or handled. Indeed if it had not been for that ruinous drooping, & for starting at times – I should not have had any cause for alarm. As you may suppose this hangs upon me – & bears my spirits down, tho I shall not cease to exert & to employ myself.

I have heard again from Tom. during the month he had then been aboard they had buried sixty! – & were then lying in harbour for want of hands. he was well, & wrote in better spirits than you or I should be in in such circumstances. [5] 

We have heard Coleridge. he is confidential Secretary to Sir Alexander Ball, [6]  with a good salary & apartment in the palace – & has undertaken to go into Greece & up the Black Sea with Captain Leake, [7]  to purchase corn for government! his health is much better, indeed if he would but think fit to be contented I think he would be well. – Hartley goes on the same odd creature as was. a visitor the other day was whispering in his presence to his friend Mrs Wilson – Mrs Hall [8]  – said he – I must tell you that there’s one fault of mine, which I never shall mend; – indeed I never can mend it, nor I never will, nor nobody can ever make me; & that is that whenever {I hear any thing or see} any thing xxx going on, I never can rest till I have got at the bottom of it; & I do’nt suppose I ever shall as long as I live.

No news of the wine. [9]  – It cannot be long before Madoc will be published. believe me that I lose as much pleasure in sending it you, as you yourself: – indeed the greatest which I should have derived from its publication. Two years ago I never thought of the poem without thinking of your excellent mother & looking on to the pleasure she would take in seeing it thro all its stages. –

I have all the sheets here, & the vignettes, & now my enjoyments are well nigh over. there is only one more which is sight of the compleat volume. when that has arrived & been cut open, as the book will then cease to be peculiarly my own, & is any bodys who chuses to purchase it, there is an end to half the pleasure or nine tenths, that it can ever afford me.

My history is now getting on. [10]  this unhappy affair {loss} of John Wordsworth will delay it, & my own uneasiness will make me work uncomfortably. however a very few months will decide upon these hopes & fears, & I am prepared for the worst as a thing which I have always had in contemplation. A hundred years {hence} it will matter little what my joys & sorrows may have been, & they who read my life will then be perfectly indifferent whether it be said that I reared my children or lost them. And as I know assuredly that the loss is only for a time, the moment the evil is over it begins to mature itself as a source of consolation & hope.

God bless you –

yrs affectionately

R Southey.

Rickman goes on as usual. I hear from him often, & he franks half my town letters down. – remember me to Hort. [11] 

Monday Feby 18. 1805.


* Address: To/ Mr Danvers/ Bristol./ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [partial] E/ FEB21
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890
Unpublished. BACK

[1] This story has not been traced. BACK

[2] The Bristol evangelical, Thomas Biddulph (1763–1838; DNB), whose Short Sermons by the R. John Biddulph went through many editions. BACK

[3] John Wordsworth (1772–1805), captain of the East Indiaman, the Earl of Abergavenny, went down with his ship on the Shambles rocks off Portland Bill, on 5 February 1805. BACK

[4] The common name for mercury chloride, which was taken for various ailments. BACK

[5] Thomas Southey had been made lieutenant of HMS Amelia (a 38-gun Hébé-class frigate of the French navy captured in 1796 and then commissioned into the navy) whose crew had been hit by yellow fever. BACK

[6] Alexander John Ball, 1st Baronet (1757–1809; DNB): Rear Admiral who directed the blockade of Malta (1798–1800). Coleridge wrote a biography of Ball in The Friend (1809–1810). See S. T. Coleridge, The Friend, ed. Barbara E. Rooke, 2 vols (London and Princeton NJ, 1969), II, pp. 252–256, 287–294, 347–356, 359–369. BACK

[7] Captain William Martin Leake (1777–1860) of the Royal Artillery, explored and mapped Greece and the Levant. A collector of Greek coins, he befriended Byron and became Britain’s negotiator with Muhammad Ali Pasha al-Mas’ud ibn Agha (1769–1849) during the Napoleonic invasion of the Ottoman empire. BACK

[8] Untraced. BACK

[9] Southey had ordered wine from the firm of Danvers and White (first name and date unknown). BACK

[10] Southey’s ‘History of Portugal’, which was never completed. BACK

[11] William Jillard Hort (1764–1849), Unitarian minister and writer. He was one of many acquaintances who stored books for Southey. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013